Alexandra Pickett Reflects on Social Presence and Group Cohesion (part 4 of 5)

The third category under social presence is
group cohesion, and some of the elements that go towards building a sense of group cohesion
is having students comfortable with disagreeing with their classmates and building an environment
in which that is modeled and scaffolded in some way. This goes back reinforcing this
sense of trust; before you can disagree with someone, you must have trust that it is okay
in that environment, with the instructor, and with the other students. In order to do
this, you have to set the environment with some ground rules. There are lots of ways
to do this. You can have a list of rules for interaction, you can have the students co-create
that list with you, you sort of create a skeletal structure of the things you want to make sure
are in there but open it up to students to have them contribute. You have to model it;
you have to say it explicitly again. You can never say anything too explicitly in an online
course. If your expectation is that students are going to challenge each other, that they
can have their opinions and be respectful of each other but will challenge each other,
they need to know you will be respectful but will be assertive.
You kind of have to ramp up to that kind of thing, you can’t just all of a sudden throw
everyone into an interaction and then expect they will go at it and do it well. You have
to scaffold them into it and give them corrective feedback and model stuff and give them examples.
It is nice if you have a sample discussion for students to look at so they have an example
of high quality interactions and how you can effectively refute someone or affectively
add another dimension to a conversation. Sense of trust is really important, you want
to model acknowledging points of view, an example of that would be saying, “I know
what you are saying”. Somehow acknowledging something that was previously said helps establish
cohesion and trust. Discussion in of itself helps establish group cohesion because you
are sitting there interacting with content asynchrously with other students. The work
puts you on the same side of the table with the other students. All being faced with the
same question. Some elements that may seem small, but are
equally important I think in supporting that sense of cohesion is using salutations. Using
first names to address people individually and using inclusive pronouns so you are making
an effort to make it “we” or “to us” or identifying individual people. I use peer
evaluation in discussions to students can focus on adding this element of giving feedback
to their classmates, which also ends up having this effect on feeling like a group. Whenever
they respond to somebody, they have to start with a peer evaluation of that prior post
they are responding to and then they have to self-assess. At the end of their own post,
they have to give themselves a score based on a rubric I have created for them, so they
evaluate the person they are responding to and then evaluate themselves. This helps them
to get a sense that they are in this together, they are helping each other, giving each other
feedback, and then assessing themselves. I think these help to build a sense of community
and group cohesion and trust. Definitely, they get a sense of the socialness of the
environment because they are really getting to know each other in this process.

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